Iran’s Version of Political Silly Season Escalates as Election Nears

May 19, 2009

(ChattahBox)—Politicians in the months leading up to a presidential election are known for their grand plans, lofty promises, vigorously attacking opposing candidates and exhausting campaign stumping, with a few baby kissing photo ops thrown in for good measure.

As Iran faces a presidential election on June 12, this isolated Islamic nation of over seventy million souls, is being subjected to “political silly season,” Iranian style.

With incumbent conservative President Ahmadinejad seeking reelection to a second term, the election is developing into a spirited referendum on the failures of Ahmadinejad’s government. His hard-line conservatism, extreme anti Israel policies, including Holocaust denial and rejection of a political dialogue with the United States, has opened the door to criticism by his opponents, both conservative and moderates alike.

The hotly contested election is exposing new partisan divides as various political leaders align themselves with either current President Ahmadinejad, the conservative opposition candidate, Mohsen Rezai a former Revolutionary Guard or the two reformists challengers; former Prime Minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi and former parliamentary speaker Mehdi Karroubi.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently jumped into the fray this week, speaking to a group in the western town of Bijar, warning the people of Iran not to vote for reformist candidates, “…who submit to the enemies and bring shame on the nation…” He cautioned against voting for candidates “…paying lip service to the Western countries and arrogant governments…”

The Ayatollah’s comments are seen as supporting the reelection of President Ahmadinejad. Another Ahmadinejad supporter, political leader Hojjat al-Eslam Hamid Rasayi is out stumping for Ahmadinejad using fiery rhetoric against the reformist challengers accusing them of “instigating a coup against the regime every ninth day, said Rasayi in one recent speech.

President Ahmadinejad is also quite busy on the campaign trial in these final days before the election, appearing at Friday prayer meetings according to Kalameh News, handing out pamphlets listing “twenty of his enemies,” which of course include his reformist opponents Mehdi Karrubi and Mir-Hossein Mousavi.

Ahmadinejad is also handing out cash and potatoes at his campaign rallies. There is nothing like a little cash in your pocket and a nice baked potato in exchange for a vote.

In a twist on promising voters a “chicken in every pot,” Ahmadinejad is also promising every citizen a share in profits from the oil industry if he is reelected.

Meanwhile, Ahmadinejad’s challengers are just as busy. Hossein Mousavi secured support of the School Teacher’s Association and even has his own slogan that supporters shout out at rallies, “digar asar nadarad,” meaning “Canons, tanks, Basijis no longer work.”

Mousavi is also taking a page out of President Obama’s campaign handbook, by including his wife, Zahra Rahnavard in his campaign, something that is not usually done in Iranian politics. The local newspapers are now comparing his wife, Zahra to Michelle Obama.

Not to be outdone, Mohsen Rezai is also following suit and having his wife accompany him on campaign stops. Rezai, although the conservative candidate is calling for a conciliatory relationship with the United States. “In foreign policy, I believe in convergence between countries,” said Rezai in a newspaper interview.

Mehdi Karroubi is out this week criticizing Ahmadinejad for denying the Holocaust saying such an extreme position alienates potential allies.

All of Ahmadinejad’s challengers are jumping in on the criticism by his opponents for his rampant nepotism in making his government appointments. According to the popular reformist newspaper, Ham-Mihan Ahmadinejad’s Cabinet Secretary, Masoud Zaribafan, is the husband of Ahmadinejad’s sister and former Economy and Finance Minister Davoud Danesh-Ja’fari, is the son of the aunt of the father of Zaribafan’s son-in-law. Got that?

A new Iranian president would be a welcome change for the United States that has expressed a willingness to establish foreign relations with the Islamic country, something that so far, Ahmadinejad has refused to do.

If a leading candidate receives less than 50 percent of the vote in Iran, a runoff election is held between the top two vote getters, which may very well happen in this election, but Ahmadinejad may have other ideas.

Although, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei holds the ultimate power in Iran, especially over the military and national security, the president controls foreign affairs appointments and has the capacity to have a huge impact on the foreign policy of the country.

According to the latest poll, President Ahmadinejad and Mir-Hossein Mousavi are at a dead heat, with each candidate garnering 30 percent of the voters support.



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